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'It was challenging': Vickie Murray reflects on her role as vaccine lead

Vickie Murray, who worked tirelessly as the vaccine lead for the region throughout the pandemic, was recognized for her work at the K-W Oktoberfest Rogers Women of the Year Awards earlier this year
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Vickie Murray and David Aoki at Pinebush mass vaccination clinic in Cambridge on the last day of operating.

Vickie Murray has dedicated most of her life to helping people in the community.

She started as a community pharmacist, working in retail stores for the first half of her career. She was drawn to the occupation because she wanted to make a difference in people’s lives – so when the opportunity came to work in a hospital, she leapt at it, starting out in a cancer centre.  

“There is a population of people who really need help and supportive people around them. It’s a place of hope, of healing. And I was always glad to be part of that,” she said.

She’s spent the last 22 years working with Grand River Hospital (GRH) in various roles, as a frontline pharmacist and the manager of inpatient pharmacy. In 2017, she became the director for GRH and St. Mary’s General Hospital.

When COVID hit, she wasted no time starting up the first vaccination clinic in Waterloo Region in December 2020.

“It was a small clinic that we pulled together, literally in a week and a half, when we found out we were getting a vaccine. And we just grew from there,” she said. “The early days were very challenging, because it was when we didn't have enough vaccines, so people were allowed to get vaccines based on eligibility. And we just never knew when we were going to get more, and who was going to be eligible. So we were literally changing every day, what we were doing, if we were going to be open and how much we were working.”

This time was also a balancing act for Murray, between her role as manager of the general hospital and opening and running vaccine clinics around the region. But eventually, she moved into the role of the vaccine lead for the entire region, so she could fully focus on getting vaccines out.

“When I took that position, it was right when Delta hit our community very hard. So, immediately there was a lot of pressure and a lot of stress, hours and hours of work. But it was also work that we gladly did with a lot of hope. Because we know that vaccines save lives. It's one of those accomplishments where, in the moment it was hard, but the end goal and the purpose really rose to the top.”

Murray was recently the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award at the K-W Oktoberfest Rogers Women of the Year Awards, for her work as the vaccine lead for Waterloo Region, as well as her work with the Women's Crisis Services of Waterloo Region.

Being recognized with this prestigious award was both overwhelming and wonderful, says Murray.

“It was incredibly humbling. I am so lucky that I had such a great team working with me, and I really feel like it should have been a group award for me and my team,” she said of her vaccine distribution team.

“But [working as the vaccine lead] was a wonderful opportunity for me to serve our community. And that's how we all approached the work we were doing, we were looking out for our community, wanting to give people opportunities to get vaccinated,” she said.

At the same time, she was working as the Chair of the Board of Directors for the Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region – a role she’s been in for the past five years, helping provide governance oversight for things like risk management.

She started getting involved with them because she wanted to “support an organization who was looking after vulnerable people in our community, and wanted to give back to our community.”

Plus, she wanted to do something that felt meaningful to her.

“Protecting the women and children who deal with domestic violence on a daily basis is very meaningful work to me, and work I’m really glad to support. Sadly, the pandemic has increased their work, so if there are things I can do to help them better reach our vulnerable populations, I’m glad to do that.”

Murray feels lucky to have the opportunity to help people in a community that she loves so dearly.

“I'm really proud of our community. I really count my blessings every day. And so if I'm going to feel blessed for being here, I want to share those gifts with others. And I can do that by working hard to support others, and make a difference.”

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